If you found this page, chances are that you have at least an idea of what a barcode scanner is. If you don’t, allow me to clear that up. A barcode scanner, also known as a barcode reader, is a device used to read those little black and white tags on virtually every product; a sort of computerized price tag.
Barcode scanners utilize the same concept as a flatbed scanner, the type on your average copy machine; they consist of a light, lense, and a sensor that takes the optical current and covers it to electrical current, and then decodes it so that the computer can read it.
You get the picture. You aim, click, and voila! The product name, price, and other information are at your fingertips.
Unless you are in the retail business, you may be unaware of the many different types of barcode readers there are. There is much confusion about the types of scanners out there, but don’t worry, I will break it down for you.
Generally speaking, barcode scanners can be broken down into four different groups
according to the technology used: Pen scanners, Laser scanners (including Omnidirectional scanners), LED scanners, & Cameras scanners.
However, if you’re like me, you are probably more interested in categorizing by the housing type; i.e. pen scanners, handheld scanners, fixed scanners, etc. Pen readers are small and pen-like and are swiped over the barcode in one, smooth motion.
Handheld readers are the most common and are simply held in front of the barcode. And fixed readers, or stationary readers, are usually bigger and are fixed in place so that the barcode is swiped over it, such as the scanners at the checkout stand at your local supermarket.
As for the guts of a barcode scanner, they vary according to the main purpose of the scanner. I won’t get into the technical details, as this guide is meant to inform readers and consumers of the various barcode scanners out there and the basic variations.
Some scanners use photodiodes and light to decode the bars (such as pen scanners), others use lasers (very common with handheld or stationary scanners), and others use LED lights. There are more variations, but these are the most common.
Again, this site is not meant to be the end-all-be-all, definitive, one-stop, explicitly explanatory barcode scanner guide.
It is, however, a simple guide for the average consumer, to help provide you with a better understanding of the various types of scanners and what they can be used for. Also, please note that the terms barcode scanner and barcode reader are virtually synonymous.
Basics of Barcode Scanners
When most of us think of barcode scanners, regardless of the actual size or shape of the scanner, that little red laser beam always comes to mind. This little red laser beam is a vital part of the functionality of a barcode scanner.
Similar to pen-type scanners, laser scanners use virtually the same type of technology, but instead of swiping the scanner across a barcode, the scanner is just held in front of the barcode and it automatically registers.
This is possible because of a tiny mirror that goes back and forth quickly or a little prism that rotates; both of these styles reflect the laser beam in a fast, forth, and back motion, which means that the scanner itself doesn’t have to be moved across the barcode, instead it can stay in place, and the laser reads the barcode by itself.
Waves of light are read by a photodiode in the scanner, which decodes the light that is reflected by the mirrors.
Laser scanners are the single most common type of barcode reader in use today
at least in the way of technology. The housing or casing types vary according to the purpose of the scanner, while still using the same technology.
Special care should be taken with laser scanners, especially the handheld type. One must always be careful to never shine the laser beam into someone’s eyes.
When used by adults only in a work environment, this isn’t usually a problem. But if kids are around or involved, just be careful and let them know that the laser scanner is not to be played with.
In the retail world, laser scanners are incredibly useful. Imagine how much more time-consuming and frustrating it would be if the clerk at the grocery store had to run a pen-type scanner across each and every item you had in your cart! But with laser technology, all we have to do is throw our items onto the conveyor belt and the clerk simply waves them in the general area of the laser scanner and into our bags in one smooth motion.
Special Note: Supermarkets employ a slightly more sophisticated version of the basic laser scanner, but which still uses the same technology. Don’t forget that laser scanners come in handheld models as well, which are useful for bigger, heavier things, like furniture.